Happy 100th Birthday to our Chancellor Emerita, Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, O.P. ‘58

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Happy 100th Birthday to our Chancellor Emerita, Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, O.P. ‘58

Aquinas College celebrates the birthday of Sister Mary Aquinas Weber O.P. who turns a momentous 100 years old on May 2, 2023. Sister Aquinas, Chancellor Emerita of Aquinas College and former Prioress of the Grand Rapids ~ Dominican Sisters has served all nine Presidents of Aquinas College since its founding, leading a remarkably rich and involved life of prayer, study, service, and community. Sister Aquinas can frequently be seen around campus, particularly in Holmdene Manor, where she is still phoning donors and attending meetings.

Her story began in 1923, where she was born Lucille Weber in northern Michigan between Hannah and Kingsley. Her mother and father farmed in the German Catholic community where they raised Lucille and her 10 other siblings, nine of whom were boys. She firmly believed that if her brothers could do something, so could she. Her schooling was led by Dominican Sisters, who left a strong impression on her that women could study and be educated in many disciplines. After a short time working in a penicillin factory in Detroit post-graduation, Lucille chose to enter Marywood and become a Dominican Sister, taking her first profession of vows in 1945.

The Prioress and governing council gave her the name Sister Mary Aquinas Weber after a deceased Sister who had a passion for education. At the time, career paths were chosen for the Sisters by the Mother Superior, but Sister Aquinas did try asking Mother Victor Flannery if she could learn home economics. Mother Victor said no, so she studied History and English. She graduated from Aquinas College with a Bachelor’s degree in 1958 and went on to work as a teacher and principal at schools in East Grand Rapids, New Salem, Bay City, and Taylor.

In 1960, she was called back to Marywood by Mother Victor Flannery to become Director of the House of Studies, the current Hruby Hall, supervising the progress of 75 young Sisters who had taken their first vows. Just six years later, she would be elected Prioress of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids, the youngest person to ever assume that  role, and lead the Sisters through the changes of the Second Vatican Council. During that time, the Sisters gained significantly more freedom in dress, travel, and profession. Sister Aquinas was also the first Prioress to maintain the title “Sister” instead of “Mother.” The title change has stayed with the Congregation to this day. 

While at Aquinas College, she has served as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, liaison between Eastown businesses and the College, Co-founder and Director of the Emeritus College now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) of Aquinas College, Vice-President for  Development, Chancellor, and currently Chancellor Emerita. She has technically retired five times, but continues to return to the College, feeling she has more to give. The relationships she has developed with faculty, staff, business leaders, and community organizations have made her a true champion of the College.

In 1972, the second president of Aquinas College, President Norbert Hruby, sent Sister Aquinas to pursue her Master’s Degree in Urban Studies at the University of Michigan. President Hruby recognized that the fates of Aquinas College and Eastown were intimately linked by proximity, so he assembled a team of faculty to form the group that would eventually become the Eastown Community Association. Sister Aquinas joined the team and served as an advocate for the neighborhood at many Grand Rapids City Commission meetings.

In addition, Sister Aquinas has served on several boards around the community: the YMCA, Saint John’s Home, The Gleaners of West Michigan, Porter Hills Presbyterian Village, The Hugh Michael Beahan Foundation, The Porter Hills Foundation, the Salvation Army, Hospice of Michigan- Greater Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Housing Authority, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and she was the first woman to serve on the board of Old Kent Bank and Trust Financial Corporation, now known as 5/3rd. 

Her many awards include Notre Dame Club Honoree, the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award, the Aquinas College Reflection Award, the Sr. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati, the National Kidney Foundation Galaxy Award, the Grand Rapids Rotary Award, the Second Harvest Gleaners Food Bank Award, the Salvation Army Award, the Porter Hills Foundation Award, the Hugh Michael Beahan Foundation Award, the Edward J. Frey Sr. Distinguished Achievement Award from the Junior Achievement West Michigan Business Hall of Fame, the President’s Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, an Honorary Doctorate from Aquinas College, and the Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award from the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.

We are delighted to celebrate Sister Aquinas and share some of her remarkable story for her 100th birthday. While Sister Aquinas is humble about her accomplishments, few are such shining examples of how to live out the Dominican pillars of prayer, study, service and community– pillars that are the foundation of our life as a College. With heartfelt gratitude, we wish Sister Aquinas a blessed 100th birthday.